LAUSD aims to reopen elementary schools in mid-April and secondary schools by end of next month
With an agreement with the teachers union to return to campuses expected this week, Los Angeles Unified is moving ahead with plans to reopen schools, with the goal of welcoming back elementary and special education students in mid-April and for middle and high school students by the end of next month, Superintendent Austin Beutner announced on Monday, March 8.
The hybrid schedules which the district and teachers union have been negotiating are “substantially complete,” he said.
“While we expect an agreement with UTLA this week, we’ll continue to move forward on plans to reopen schools as there is a great deal to do to get ready,” the superintendent said during his weekly community update.
United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing teachers, librarians, counselors, school nurses and other certificated employees, did not immediately respond to a message inquiring about the status of negotiations and if they agree with Beutner’s timeframe for returning to campuses.
To help families decide whether to send their children back to campuses or to continue learning online full-time the rest of the semester, the district plans to share “Return to School Guides,” which will detail health and safety measures at schools, COVID-19 testing and safety protocols, and the instructional schedules, later this week.
School meetings and community town halls will be held over the next few weeks to provide families with information and to answer questions. Individuals may also call a COVID-19 safety hotline at (213) 443-1300 if they have questions or to share a concern or suggestion about school safety.
Beutner also outlined investments the district has made or plans to make to ensure school environments are safe. In addition to the more than $25 million spent on personal protective equipment and nearly $10 million on MERV 13 air filters — which are considered as effective as N95 masks — for classrooms, the district plans to double its school cleaning staff, which will cost upwards of $60 million for the school year, officials said.
Funding from the state and federal government will help with these efforts.
“It’s the Marshall Plan for Schools that we’ve been calling for,” said Beutner, referring to a request he made in December for government to provide aid to support school reopenings.
Beutner said the district is also making investments to support students’ academic and social-emotional needs. This includes setting aside:
- More than $1 billion for additional reading teachers and staff to provide tutoring and small-group instruction, new technology and an extended school year;
- $170 million for additional counselors and psychiatric social workers; and
- $140 million for more teachers and staff to support students with disabilities.
Before students return to classrooms, though, the district is working to ensure school employees who want to be vaccinated get that chance at one of several vaccination sites the district is running.
“We’ve kicked off the effort for about 54,000 of our 86,000 employees just a week ago and already more than 35,000 of them have received their first dose of the vaccine, are making appointments to do so or have decided they don’t wish to receive the vaccination at this time,” Beutner said. About 10% of employees have indicated that they will forgo the vaccine for now, he said.
In the meantime, the district opened three more school-based vaccination sites on Monday. In addition to a mega-vaccination site at SoFi Stadium that has the capacity to administer about 10,000 shots a day, the district now has six smaller, school-based vaccination sites up and running.
In terms of its relationship with its employee groups, Beutner said the district has worked alongside all of its labor partners to support students and families since last March.
“At each step, we’ve acted together and with respect for and support of all who work in schools,” Beutner said. “No posturing, no name-calling and no need for threats. We’ve all been working toward the same goal – to return students to schools in the safest way possible.”
At the same time, he noted that the district has reached reopening agreements with all but one employee group.
“We still don’t have an agreement with United Teachers Los Angeles, despite months of bargaining,” he said.
The union had its members vote last week on whether to refuse to return to in-person work if ordered to before the safety conditions it has been asking for are met. Of those who voted, 91% supported a refusal to return to campuses, the union said.
The union has been demanding three conditions: that safety measures be in place at school sites; that COVID-19 case rates fall further so that LA County is no longer in the most restrictive, purple tier of the state’s reopening plan; and that school employees be fully vaccinated or provided access to full vaccination.
With the county standing a good chance of advancing out of the purple tier this week and with school employees now prioritized for vaccine doses, Beutner projected confidence that schools will reopen next month.
“We’re making progress in our plans to reopen schools,” he said.
“Our goal is to do this as soon as possible and in the safest way possible,” he continued. “Not in any way possible — the safest way possible.”